Millions of primary school children from poor families who have been receiving free lunch from the World Food Programme (WFP) will receive their last serving at the end of this month.
This is due to tough talking in May 2017 by the then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, who wanted African nations eschew the culture of having their children “fed by others”.
“We want to tell the World Food Programme to go and feed others. We want to give meaning to independence,” Dr Matiang’i, now the Interior minister, said during a consultation meeting with WFP and the African Union.
“Five decades after gaining independence we cannot be discussing how our children are going to be fed by others,” he added.
Dr Matiang’i promised that the government would take over the programme in January, but it appears the programme was delayed till June.
WIND UP OPERATIONS
Now WFP, a United Nations agency that has been giving lunch to children from slums, arid and semi-arid areas since the 1980s alongside Feed the Children, is about to wind up its operations.
Through its communication officer Martin Karimi, the Gigiri-based organisation said June will be the last month it will be involved in providing food to learners.
“Starting July, the government of Kenya will assume full ownership of the school meals programme — financing, implementing, monitoring, et cetera,” Mr Karimi told the Nation.
He said the move is not out of Dr Matiang’i’s words but out of a well-planned hand-over that began in 2009.
“Since 2009, the government has been gradually absorbing the children being fed under the WFP school meals programme into its home-grown school meals programme culminating into the much anticipated final phase of the handover taking place at the end of June 2018,” he said.
While Dr Matiang’i last year said WFP was supporting only about 500,000 learners while the government took care of 1.1 million, the organisation says the government will need to cough up Sh1 billion more to sustain the feeding programme.
“In the current financial year, the government set aside Sh2.4 billion for school feeding. Going forward, the government will require Sh3.4 billion every year to reach the two million children with a hot lunch each school day,” said Mr Karimi.
A contradiction in government policy arose when a school head in one of the benefitting schools said an Education ministry official had told headteachers at a recent meeting that parents in Nairobi slums should start paying for their children’s lunch.
“A ministry representative said that in Nairobi, parents are able: they live in houses with electricity,” said the headteacher, who we cannot name for she cannot be quoted contradicting her seniors.
“So, we called the parents and asked them to fund the feeding programme by paying Sh11 per child, which amounts to Sh800 per term,” the teacher said.
Initially, parents in Nairobi could only pay Sh300 per child per term to employ cooks. Now they will be required to add Sh800, a figure the teacher said most parents will not afford.
“Most parents cannot pay because some have even three or four children. And they are supposed to pay this term because we must have the money to be able to order the food when the schools open for third term on August 28,” the teacher said.
It appears there are bleak times ahead for learners in primary schools like Olympic, Mathare, Kirigu, Ngunyumu among others.
“We have children who come with containers,” said the teacher.
“After cooks have served the first ration, these children come again with the tins and we pack food for them so they can eat it; because the situation is so bad at home.”
According to WFP, giving food to such learners helps them concentrate better, retain more, and attend classes on a regular basis.
Mr Karimi said that henceforth, WFP’s participation in the food programme will be through offering technical support.
“WFP is reducing its role in directly delivering services in Kenya, to one of supporting the national and county governments meet their mandate in responding to emergencies as well as food and nutrition needs of the people of Kenya,” he said.